EU presents a new strategy for the voluntary return of migrants

29 April 2021

On Tuesday, the Commission adopted the first EU Strategy on voluntary return and reintegration. The strategy is a part of the common system for returns, a central pillar of the Commission’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum. With this comprehensive strategy, which gives Frontex a significant role, the EU wants to encourage people without the right of residence to return voluntarily to their countries of origin. 

According to the Commission, currently only around 30 % of those obliged to leave the EU do so, while only 10% of those who leave, do so voluntarily. To increase this number, the Commission’s new strategy is focused on reintegrating people, according to European Commission Vice-President in charge of the “European way of life” Margaritis Schinas, who said that “returns are more effective when they are voluntary and accompanied by genuine reintegration options for returnees. At the same time, he admitted current shortcomings on repatriations, with them often failing due to a lack of resources on the part of Member States, a lack of cooperation on the part of the countries of origin, or the fact that those affected go into hiding.

The new strategy also aims to standardize the approach to repatriation within the EU. It foresees, among other things, a strong cooperation with countries of origin and transit, and aims to strengthen development initiatives to improve the prospects in the migrants’ home countries. Those affected are to be advised at an early stage about the possibility of returning voluntarily to their home country to improve the chances for their reintegration. 

The strategy also gives Frontex a pivotal role. Contributing to the policy of “voluntary” returns is already part of the EU’s border and coast guard agency mandate, which will now be extended. The Commission wants to work together with Frontex to develop a common curriculum for return counsellors to complement current reintegration efforts by the agency. 

Regarding criticism against Frontex following allegations of illegally pushing back migrants, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson defended the agency, saying on Tuesday, that possible shortcomings had been identified and corrected, and that according to internal investigations of the Frontex board, there had been no illegal push back of asylum seekers. The extension of the agency’s mandate should, in any case, is set to raise new questions among Parliamentarians which are still investigating the agency’s activities in the Mediterranean.

Furthermore, the Commission announced that it also seeks to continue to address further issues such as gaps between asylum and return procedures, insufficient resources, and a lack of data through legislative efforts. In order to encourage people to return voluntarily, some Member States already cover migrants’ travel costs, while sometimes people are also given financial assistance. 

The Commission’s strategy is in line with its desire to implement real solidarity between Member States, a better distribution of asylum seekers and a more efficient rescue policy at sea. In addition, the aim is to reduce the number of irregular migrants, while making the most hostile EU governments adhere to the basic ethos of European migration policy.